Marcella Hazan was born on my birthday…or I suppose I was born on her birthday, as she was born 46 years before me. Our copy of her first book, The Classic Italian Cook Book, falls open to two pages—homemade pasta and risi e bisi (rice and peas). They form opposite ends of our cooking spectrum. Risi e bisi is the comfort food we go to when we come home late from work and school and don’t feel like cooking. It is delicious and filling, and oh so easy to make.
Homemade pasta, on the other hand, is what we pull out when we want an extra special meal–pumpkin stuffed ravioli, linguini with mounds of home grown oyster mushrooms in a creamy goat milk sauce, lasagne packed with the freshest vegetables from the garden.
I didn’t know much about Hazan until she died in 2013. Upon her death, the New York Times published a lovely obituary, painting her as the initially reluctant chef, who wasn’t terribly interested in food and learned to cook to please her husband. Apparently, she had to be cajoled into writing a cookbook. What a lovely picture of this icon of Italian cooking!
What speaks to me most about her cooking style are her insistence on intimacy with the ingredients and the cooking process, and the simplicity of many of the recipes. This was a woman who cooked for everyday, but who felt that every day should include good food. In The Classic Italian Cook Book she writes, “The finest accomplishments of the home cook are not reserved like the good silver and china for special occasions or for impressing guests, but are offered daily for the pleasure and happiness of the family group.” This is a woman I would have loved to meet.
Fresh vegetables, pasta rolled by hand, homemade stock—she could be quite opinionated and judgemental. In her risi e bisi recipe, she notes, “You may use frozen peas, if you must… but until you’ve made it with choice fresh peas your risi e bisi will be a tolerable but slightly blurred copy of the original.” At the same time, her recipes are written for real cooks. About Minestrone di Romagna, she writes, “It is not necessary to prepare all the vegetables ahead of time…while one vegetable is slowly cooking in oil and butter you can peel and cut another. I find this method more efficient and less tedious than preparing all the vegetables at one time”.
For Hazan, cooking and eating were both expressions of love:
“Italian cooking is the art of giving expression to the undisguised flavors of its ingredients.”
“The Italian art of eating is sustained by a life measured in nature’s rhythms, a life that falls in with the slow wheelings of the seasons, a life in which, until very recently, produce and fish reached the table not many hours after having been taken from the soil or the sea.”
“There probably has been no influence, not even religion, so effective in creating a rich family life, in maintaining a civilized link between the generations, as this daily sharing of a common joy. Eating in Italy is essentially a family art, practiced for and by the family.”
Thank you, Marcella, for everything.